(from our Gallery of Poetry Prize Eponyms entry for the Earle Birney Prize)
Earle Birney grew up on a farm, became a Trotskyist, worked for the CBC, in World War II; he also founded the UBC creative-writing department, won two Governor-General’s awards, straddled concrete poetry and formal verse, was a dedicated scholar, and even recorded with avant-garde percussionists…
In 1964, Earle Birney became Editor in Chief of PRISM, and the University became the publisher. The prize was initially supported by the Estate of Earle Birney through funds from the sale of a tribute anthology, which was intended to cover half of the annual prize money. Once sales of the anthology diminished, Justice Wailan Low, Birney’s widow and executor, has generously funded 50% directly.
Birney’s oft-quoted minifesto, in his 1966 book The Creative Writer, that “living art… stays alive only by changing,” reflects his inextricable, parallel social and literary involvement and energy, and suggests Birney’s attempt to defamiliarize and thus constantly renew both his work and his perspective on the world.